The Books That Got Me Through a Year of Pandemic Life

Guys, it’s been a year, but I don’t have to tell you that. At some point or another, I think we all sought our own form of escapism, whether through TV shows, movies, hobbies, baking, virtual happy hours, etc. I dabbled in a bit of all of these, but by far the method I chose most often this year was books. As in, I read 93 of them. The magic of books is they let you escape your world, if only for a time. And boy did I need that this year. Since we are still in the midst of a pandemic and we might continue to need an escape or extra entertainment and education in 2021, I thought I would share my highlights of my 2020 reading list with you. 

The Books That Got Me Through a Year of Pandemic Life

Fair warning, this is a long list. My intention was to give just a few but then when I started I couldn’t stop. I have a book addiction. #sorrynotsorry. I’ve broken them down by categories to make it a little easier. 

Young Adult

If you are that person who can’t get into a book or has a hard time reading, start with some YA books. They are shorter, and sometimes fluffier, so when my brain needs a break I often turn here. That being said two of my three below are anything but fluff. 

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

One of my top books of 2020. Awkward, nerdy Liz enters her school’s prom queen competition in a quest to win the cash prize to help her pay for the college of her dreams. Along the way she has multiple blunders, learns about herself, and falls in love with one of her competitors for queen. I wanted to read it again as soon as I finished it. 

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

The newest book by the author of the Selection Series {start with this if you haven’t read it- its the Bachelor meets the Hunger Games…you’re welcome}. Set in a dystopian world, the main character Hollis is singled out by the King to be his wife, but she’s not sure if it’s the life she wants. Perfect to feed that royal fever everyone has these days, but not too heavy. 

Color Me In by Natasha Diaz

A coming of age tale about Neveah, a half Black half Jewish teenager coming to terms with all of the facets of her identity. Exploration, love, awkward mistakes, and family bringing her to task make this a great story, and one that is sure to remind you of your teen years. If you loved “Never Have I Ever” you’ll love this.

Sex Education

Turns out, I read a lot of books about sex in 2020. Might just be coincidence, or the universe telling me something, I don’t know. Either way, I learned a bunch.

The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter

As someone who grew up in the Catholic world of “if we just don’t talk about sex it won’t happen”, this was the education I missed out on in my teens. Dr. Jen discusses all the parts of the vagina, health misconceptions, and teaches accurate science while also exploring how we came to this point of there being so much misinformation about this part of the body. A must read for every woman. Dr. Jen is also an excellent instagram follow

Come as You Are:: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Dr. Emily Nagoski

I read Burnout, the book that Dr. Emily Nagoski wrote with her sister last year {also a great read}, and picked this one up because I enjoyed that one. Holy Moly this one was life changing for me. It’s an exploration of how women’s sexuality functions. Science mixes with stories of women and their experiences to bring to life these new concepts that should be common knowledge for every person engaging in sex. Teaser:: the concept of “sex drive” is a myth. “Sex is not a drive, like hunger. It’s an ‘incentive motivation system’ like curiosity.” This book virtually eliminated my guilt over not have a “strong sex drive” and helped me learn how to communicate better with my partner, and have much more enjoyable and more frequent sex. 2020 win!

Boys and Sex:: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity by Peggy Orenstein 

I’ve read pretty much every one of Peggy Orenstein’s books, and devoured Girls and Sex a couple of years ago. I had my second child, a little boy this year, and so have been reading more about the world of boys. This book was equal parts educational, terrifying, and made me so much more empathetic for the world that young boys are navigating these days. It’s the first time I have ever thought “wow it must be hard to be a teenage boy”. If you have a teenage boy, a boy that will be a teenager one day, or just want to know more about this world, pick this up.

Romance

If you want to talk about what really got me through 2020, it was absolutely romance novels. Witty banter? Yes please. Steamy scenes? Sure thing. Best of all, a guaranteed happy ending? I think we all needed that this year. 

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

This is technically a series, and I devoured them all this year. This flips the romance equation on its head writing primarily from the point of view of the guy. The first one follows the story of Gavin, a major league baseball player whose marriage is on the rocks. He joins the Bromance Book Club, a group of men who read romance novels to help navigate their love lives. Witty as hell, chock full of jabs at toxic masculinity, and pretty steamy to boot. 

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is one of my favorite romance novelists, and I would recommend any one of her books, but this is a particular favorite. Olive ends up going on her twin sister’s honeymoon with the groom’s a-hole best man after the entire wedding party gets food poisoning. It’s a classic and ever so fun hate to love story, set in Hawaii. What’s not to love? 

Jasmine Guillroy

Ok, the next two are authors, not books because I can’t choose just one, and I read multiple by both this year. Jasmine Guillroy is an American treasure. The first book of hers I read was “The Wedding Date” which I picked up thinking it was the book version of the movie starring Debra Messing, one of my guilty pleasures. Turns out it wasn’t…it was even better. Steamy, funny, and full of characters you grow to love, I’ve rushed to read every book of hers since. A particular thing I love about them is that each book’s main character is one that was a side character in a former book. They are all interconnected and you get to know the world and it’s characters even better with each one. 

Julia Quinn

I want it on the record that I was on the Julia Quinn bandwagon waaaaay before Bridgerton came out. In fact I read most of that series in 2019. I devoured every Judith McNaught book in high school, and found Julia Quinn a couple of years ago based on recs in a Facebook group. Every one of her books is a fun escapist steamy historical fiction read. And there are so many of them. Hours and hours of escapism for the days when reality is too hard to face. Which was pretty much all of 2020 am I right?

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Another one of my top books of 2020. Main character Bea is a plus sized fashion blogger who finds herself basically in the Bachelorette (but they call it something different because of copyright). She has to navigate being the first plus size bachelorette while juggling 20 odd guys and the drama of America. Bea’s point of view is interspersed with tweets, transcripts from podcasts, and articles. It made me laugh out loud multiple times, and I wished it was twice as long. 

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey 

Holy cow does Tessa Bailey know how to write a sex scene. I’ve read all of her stuff, and I loved this one because it follows a married couple, Rosie and Dom who are working through a rocky time in their marriage. Most romance novels tend to end when the characters get together, and I enjoyed reading about the ups and downs of a married couple with that guaranteed happy ending. 

Expanding My World

I read mostly fiction, and these are the books that taught me something, immersed me in lives I would never experience, and let me see the world from a different perspective. 

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

Another one of my top books of 2020, main character Oona time travels at the stroke of midnight on her nineteenth birthday to her life at age 51, and learns that each year she will jump to a different and unknown age. This out of order coming of age tale is fast paced, poignant, and heartfelt. It’s like nothing I’ve read before and I could not put it down.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Another romance {there were a lot of them y’all} but with a refreshing modern twist. Main character Dani is a modern feminist woman who isn’t limited by gender in her choice of romantic partners. She just isn’t actually interested in the romance part of it. Sharp, funny, and full of #blackgirlmagic, this was such a fun read. And if you like this one, check out “Get a Life Chloe Brown”, starring Dani’s sister. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I read this in January 2020, and then proceeded to process it the rest of the year. The book follows Alix, an upper middle class White woman, and Emira, a college aged Black woman whom Alix hires as a nanny. Switching back and forth between the two perspectives, it explores the uncomfortable parts of race, age, motherhood, and class. Absolutely riveting and thought provoking. My description could not do it justice.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Told over the span of three hundred years and following a family legacy, this book starts with the story of two half-sisters in Ghana, one who is sold into slavery, and the other who marries a British slave trader, and then follows their descendants through each generation. Haunting, beautiful, and eye opening. This book put me in the world of slavery in a way I’ve never experienced before. 

Anti-Racism Books

It’s been a personal goal of mine for the past few years to educate myself more about racism and how I can become an anti-racism ally. Here are the books that helped me grow in that this year. 

Hood Feminism:: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

I first heard Mikki Kendall speak as a guest on the Unladylike podcast, and she opened my eyes to the many problems of the White Feminist agenda. This book gives the history of feminism in our country, discusses the impact of White Feminism on women of color, and outlines the specific systemic issues we must support if we want to continue to call ourselves feminists and advocate for equal rights for all women, not just White ones. A deeper dive into issues that I was previously unaware of, should be required reading for anyone who calls themselves a feminist.

Me and White Supremacy:: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

If you have been paying attention at all during 2020 as a White person, you’ve probably heard the phrase “do the work” echoed by activists, friends, and allies. 2020 became the year where it was trendy to be anti-racist, and for many people that meant posting a black square on instagram and then going about their lives again. But for those of you who want to do the work, here’s your handbook. Layla F. Saad has created a set by step exploration of White Supremacy and how it has influenced every aspect of our lives. Made like a workbook where you answer questions at the end of each chapter, this is a deeply personal dive into your own history, biases, and influence in your community, family, and the bigger picture. Buckle up, it’s intense, but oh so helpful. 

Raising White Kids:: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey

Like many in the wake of George Floyd’s death this year, I felt helpless and was foundering for something, anything to do to make me feel like I was contributing to hope for the future. This book came recommended by HMB’s own editor Elizabeth Baker, and it was just what I needed this past summer. Jennifer Harvey gives specific ways to incorporate discussions of race with your children no matter their age, and start to change the next generation. She’s an educator, so it reads a lot like a textbook, but the information is really helpful for any parent wondering “What can I do?”

Parenting Books

Before you think that I am some kind of overachiever, I read a lot of parenting books for work. But I also like to read them for me, who am I kidding. Here are the ones that helped me the most this year.

The Power of Showing Up:: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Out Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

I am a fangirl of Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson, and I’ve read all of the books they’ve written together. I am also very interested in attachment theory as a professional and a parent. This book is the most accessible overview of attachment, how it affects us as parents, and how we can build it with our children. Simple, brain based explanations, practical tips, and things to apply right away in our parenting. Would recommend it to any parent, or anyone who works with children. 

Like a Mother:: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

I was pregnant for much of 2020 with my second child, so this was a great read for the stage I was in this year. Garbes’ exploration of the culture, science, and emotions surrounding pregnancy and early motherhood is entertaining, educational, and thought provoking. I had many an “ah ha” moment thinking…”so that’s why we do it that way”. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and want to be empowered to navigate the systems of healthcare, mom shaming, and the internet, pick this up.

Voice Lessons for Parents:: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen by Dr. Wendy Mogel

This year was my second read of this book, and what I anticipate will be the second of many to come. Dr. Wendy Mogel breaks down how to communicate and interact with your child by age, developmental stage, and gender. She is direct, honest, funny, and chock full of practical information. I’ve referred to this book countless times already as a parent and a professional, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings:: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham

I frequent Dr. Laura’s website ahaparenting.com for tips, tricks, and solidarity about all of the stages of parenting. I am an only child and with our oldest becoming a big sister this year, I wanted something that would let me know what to expect and help me navigate that transition with her. This book was it. With kindness, compassion, and science, Dr. Laura puts you in the shoes of your child and helps you to understand what siblinghood is like from their perspective. It has helped me discern what is normal and what is not with the transition to two kids, and most importantly has made me more patient and compassionate with my oldest when she is struggling. 

Now on to the new list for 2021! Happy reading friends. 


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Lindsay G. was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and she and her husband headed south to Spring in June of 2016. As a clinical social worker, she works full time with families growing their families through adoption. Lindsay met her husband John when they were both camp counselors. They welcomed their future little campers G in December 2017 and R in 2020. Lindsay is constantly reading, researching at least one new thing, and attempting to organize her life through bullet journaling. Her first book, Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness will be published in November 2021. In her free time, she enjoys binging Gilmore Girls on a loop, baking, and running in the Houston area’s beautiful parks. Check out her website www.lindsaygarrettlcsw.com for parenting prep, support, and more.

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